Save Yourself - Recovering from an XP Disaster

, 2004-06-23

I've got an old laptop. Well, not that old, but in the world of technology, it's generations back. I laugh at myself every week when I look at the ads in the Sunday paper for new laptops. US$700 buys something that's an order of magnitude more powerful than my Tecra 8000.

Still it's my laptop, a remnant of working at IQDestination, my startup that failed. It's been with me for a few years, I've added memory, upgrade to XP, and it runs fine. Most of what I do on it is write articles, answer email, and run ISQLW.exe, and it's more than capable of doing those things. In fact, other than the startup times for some apps (cough) Outlook (/cough), it runs great. And it's portable.

I know you don't care about my laptop, so I'll stop rambling and get to the point. When I left my last job and started working at home, consulting, etc., I started using this laptop more. And I found out the battery was dead. Dead as in I might as well take it out since it won't hold a charge. Remember those $800 laptops? Compared to a $150 battery, they're looking good.

Since I live in Colorado, I decided to work outside some days. The weather is great and one fine Monday I went out back, mug of coffee, a pad, my cell, and the laptop. One minor issue is that the only electrical plug on my deck is on the opposite side from the table. So I get a long, orange extension cord, plug it in, drag it across the desk, plug in the laptop and I'm in business. The only decision was whether to connect to the wireless AP upstairs or the one in the basement (hey, I'm a geek).

So I'm outside, enjoying the fresh air, consulting on the phone and through a VPN. Life is good. The biggest hassle is adjusting the umbrella as the sun moves so I can read my screen. I get up for lunch.

The dog gets up.

Did I mention that she was sleeping on the deck next to me? And she's not thrilled with being left alone. And as she walks by the table, her paw catches on the extension cord. She lifts her paw to free it, but not before she pulls on it a bit. Now the coefficient of friction between a 4 year old laptop power supply plug and a 2 year old extension cable is fairly low. In fact, it's pretty much miniscule.

Remember when I said my battery won't hold a charge? Well, in slow motion, I could see the plug separate from the cord. And as my eyes rolled to the laptop screen it was greeted with....

Well, the glare from the sun. But when I walked over there, or trotted, which really confused the dog, it was dead. Blank. Black. Nothing.

So no big deal, right. Plug it back in, move the dog to the other side of the cord, hit the power button and go get some lunch. Well, I got to come back to a "could not find System" or some other equivalent wonderful XP boot message. Multiple reboots didn't help. So here I was, work to do, and no computer.

And I hadn't really backed much up recently. I know, I know, I should know better, but I'd just left my job and my new computer (desktop) hadn't arrived, so I really had nowhere to back up to. I grabbed my XP CD (a copy) and tried booting from there. no luck. Grrrrrrrrrr, damn backup CDs.

I searched around for my real copy, but since I hadn't used it since we moved, I had no idea where it was. I did find some other stuff I'd been looking for, but nothing to help me in this situation. So

I created the XP boot floppies (luckily I had the floppy drive for this computer) and started the process of booting. Fortunately we also have an iMac downstairs (left over from IQDestination as well) and I did some Google searches for the specific error. And for repairing Windows XP installations.

What I found wasn't reassuring. A number of techies recommended not doing this. You are risking data loss. They weren't professional sites, but the guys seemed to know what they were talking about. I did find one interesting thing about the registry and how my "system" error was likely related to corruption in the registry. And I found an interesting link that discusses XP savepoints and how they are stored on your computer.

With these nuggets of information, I decided to go ahead and reinstall Windows XP in a different folder and at least get my files back. I ran through the install and after finding a few driver CDs (like for my wireless card), I was back in business. Actually I was amazed the laptop was still booting up. However I wanted my machine back the way it was.

Most of the recovery information on the web also seems to point back to the /windows/system32/repair folder to get copies of the registry to restore your system. However when I checked this folder in my old installation (/windows), the files were dated about six months prior. Hmmmm. That doesn't seem right.

Using the information I had learned, I accessed the latest system restore point that existed in my old installation. These savepoints are stored in a hidden system volume. I tracked that to an MS article, KB307545. If you look in Part 2, you will see that the savepoints are accessible after a little work.

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